When the splash of “UbiArt” together with the giant eyed winking bird appears on the screen, you can guarantee that the game you’re about to play will have a striking art style unlike any other.
Last year I sang the praises of Rayman Legends for being a great game, but I was particularly blown away by the highly detailed 2D art on-screen. Child of Light has been described by some as Ubisoft Montreal’s magnum opus. It’s unlike anything the studio have tried before, a JRPG that borrows from great examples of the past, in order to tell a tragic story. Suffice to say, this game is nothing short of incredible.
Our fable takes place in Austria during the year of 1895 and centres around a Duke and his daughter Aurora. Her mother died when she was very young and after years of grief, the Duke remarries.
Suddenly, Aurora contracts an ailment that causes her to sleep endlessly, once again rendering the Duke grief-stricken. She awakes in a world unlike her own, seeking to reunite the sun, moon, and stars so she could go back home.
Along the way during this beautifully crafted tale, she meets the inhabitants of the kingdom of Lemuria that make up her diverse party members. The narrative is told through rhyming couplets, which despite being impressive that it maintains throughout, can get rather forced at times. Every character she meets have their own characteristics, such as the jester who gets the rhyming wrong or the mouse-like race that are obsessed with the markets. Oozing in rich detail, it’s hard not to be impressed with the level of world building on show.
Given that the game has the same art branding that did Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, it’s no surprise that we’re presented with another stunning piece of living artwork on-screen. Everything is hand-drawn to perfection, with a melancholic tone that embraces the sadness of the events that unfold in the narrative. As you explore the world of Lemuria, a sombre score only enhances the sense of wonderment and contemplation that Child of Light wishes to impart.
Battles change this dynamic for one of epic peril, maintaining the gorgeous artwork throughout. You’ll face off against creatures matching one of the five key elements, with a simple rock-paper-scissors mechanic found in most JRPGs. In fact, the studio behind Child of Light have said this was their homage to the JRPGs of old, so the decision to almost copy Grandia‘s battle system is deliberate and works well. There are unique nuances like having Igniculus shine his light to either slow enemies down or heal allies, complimenting the timeline-style battle system wonderfully.
The upgrade system is relatively basic as it relies on levels to obtain points to spend on upgrades/skills, while the Oculi crafting system allows your party members to potentially gain resistances and buffs. Switching these up onto your two active party members is important, but making sure your reserves are prepared in case you need to switch them in is also vital. Compared to other JRPGs, this is a rather basic system that is a little too forgiving thanks to frequent item drops, but it does help move the game along nicely.
It’s incredibly easy to get sucked into this tragic tale of rising up against loss and despair, so when the only sour note is that the game ends rather abruptly, that can only speak volumes for the rest of the game. Having just one more dungeon or area before the final encounter would have given it the proper send-off it had justified. Child of Light is also a tad on the short side in any case, only ramping up the difficulty during the final encounters, but it does beg you to pay attention as even the more basic foes can slay an unprepared party.
With its fairy-tale enchanting charm, Child of Light is one of those JRPGs that is easy to be mesmerised by. Not only is it perhaps the best case for visual art in games, it has an incredible score and captivating story. It all ends too quickly, with a conclusion that feels slightly anti-climactic, but the journey and the battles leading up to them are such an adventure that it all ultimately feels worth it in the end. It may indeed have come from the most unlikely of sources, but Ubisoft Montreal’s ‘dream project’ is certainly one of the most satisfying games released this year.